It used to be thought that Papua New Guinea was simply a passive recipient of domesticated plants and animals from Southeast Asia. However, new research indicates that the region was in fact one of the handful of places on Earth where agriculture first, independently, appeared.

This conclusion is supported by the archaeological analysis of plant residues found in the soil and on the plant tools uncovered in the Kuk Swamp excavation site in the Wahgi Valley. The analysis revealed that people were definitely exploiting plants – including the starchy tuber, taro – 10,000 years ago. This predates the earliest known Southeast Asian influence by about 3,000 years.
In addition to this new microscopic plant evidence for early plant exploitation, the team have dated features related to planting, digging, and drainage systems to 10,000 years ago. This is clearly no Neolithic backwater, as previously thought.
By about 6,500 years ago, we have a clear picture of the agricultural setting of the Wahgi Valley as a valley floor carpeted in grasslands that were periodically burnt. Within cleared plots, on specially constructed mounds, the people grew bananas, sugar cane and yam. Taro filled the wetter ground between the mounds.
Finally, and unusually to this region, there is no evidence of the normal link between agriculture and the rise of civilisation as represented by urban centres and social and political classes.


This article is an extract from the full article published in World Archaeology Issue 1. Click here to subscribe

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